I have to hand it to 20th Century Fox for getting behind a project like Murder on the Orient Express considering it has a cast of mature actors in a story that takes place in the 1930s and nothing blows up (although there is an avalanche). And considering the story is based on a classic Agatha Christie novel that’s been made into an Oscar winning film already (in 1974), and several remakes since then, the key to the film’s success probably doesn’t lie in the mystery itself because the target audience has either since the original movie or read the book so most of us already know whodunnit.
But hopefully this slick new version with an all-star cast will appeal not only to an older audience but to a new generation who may not know the story or the ending. The plot is fairly simple: a group of strangers, one of whom happens to be world famous Belgian — not French! — detective Hercule Poirot, boards a train, each of them with a story to tell, one of the passengers is murdered in the night, and while stopped by an avalanche the detective is pressed to solve the case before the train gets back on track and arrives at its destination.
Having seen the original, it was no surprise as to what the climax was going to be. In fact, I was a bit frustrated that it took Poirot so long to figure it out because it felt pretty telegraphed as he conducted his interviews with the passengers and examined the body. I need to see the movie with someone who hasn’t seen the original or read the book to see if they can figure it out just as easily. Watching the original, I was surprised by the climax so in that sense this was a bit of a letdown, but at least they didn’t try to change up the ending. On the other hand, I felt the way the reveal was handled carried a lot more emotional weight to it than in the original movie. I actually got a lump in my throat as Poirot began to put the pieces together and reveal all to the assembled passengers. They do score some points for that.
Also where the film succeeds is in its gorgeous cinematography, production design and scenery. I’m curious to know how much of what we saw was CGI because it was seamless. The details of the train interior and the clothing was impeccable. If I have any major complaints, it’s that Poirot’s mustache is just a bit too much and does not resemble any of the previous depictions of his carefully waxed ‘stache that he protects with a guard while sleeping. Here’ the thing looks like two mustaches and we only see Poirot with the guard on once even though there are two scenes with him sleeping. Poitor would never sleep without protecting his prized facial hair.
The other problem is that with such a large cast of A-list actors, very few of them really have much time to shine. Of them, Michelle Pfeiffer and Daisy Ridley get the most time after director and star Kenneth Branagh. Olivia Colman, who will be taking over the lead on the Netflix series The Crown in its third season, and Penélope Cruz probably get the least amount of screen time. For Cruz that’s odd as she’s playing the same role that Ingrid Bergman played in the original (although with a very different name) and won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar. That being said, everyone does get their moment to shine but no one takes the spotlight away from Branagh.
I’ve been looking forward to this movie since it was announced and I wasn’t disappointed, I just wasn’t surprised. Of course, I probably would have been more surprised — and upset — had anything been changed for the ending. I did like the little hint that there could possibly be another film which would follow in the footsteps of the original and its follow-up, Death on the Nile. Murder on the Orient Express did make me feel nostalgic for the 1970s era of big budget, all-star films that you don’t see much of today because of the costs. This one had a fairly modest budget considering so I hope it finds an audience and we get to see more of the adventures of Monsieur Hercule Poirot.
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Murder on the Orient Express has a run time of 1 hour 54 minutes and is rated PG-13 for violence and thematic elements.